PALM HARBOR — Anyone who has been to a geek convention on the Suncoast, probably has seen Dottie Torres with her booth of polymer clay treasures. Her displays are piled high with miniature pieces of cake and other scrumptious food items; busts of popular television, movie and video game characters; and fleeting Internet memes immortalized in clay.
The Palm Harbor artist has been using polymer clay, a type of hardening modeling clay that is typically put into an oven to harden, to make jewelry accessories for the past seven years — ever since seeing other artists make miniature foods so realistic you’re tempted to eat them. What started as a hobby turned into a lucrative side business, with items popular with the convention-going crowd.
“I had no intention of selling my creations, but I started making more, and found myself with piles of miniature charms and nowhere to store them,” Torres said.
By day, Torres works at Bruce Barry’s Wacky World Studios and produces the Oldsmar company’s catalog. On nights and weekends, she is hard at work bent over tiny figurines sculpting and painting the tiny details that make her wearable pieces come to life.
“Polymer clay seemed very user-friendly,” Torres said. “I never felt inspired by beading or wire work and using resin is out because I’m way too impatient to wait for it to cure. I also paint and illustrate as well, but as much as I love doing that, it doesn’t sell as well as actual physical items people can accessorize with.”
Torres is planning to vend for Tampa’s third Time Lord Fest, a one-day Doctor Who convention on Nov. 9 that will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the popular British science fiction television show.
Fans of the show will recognize the various regenerations of Doctors, with delightful little details, like fezzes, bow ties and celery stalks, sonic screwdrivers, enemies like the daleks and weeping angels and the iconic TARDIS, the 1960s police box in which the Doctor travels through time and space.
Torres started making Doctor Who pieces in the form of necklace charms and earrings in 2010, right after season five aired starring Matt Smith as the eleventh incarnation of the time-traveling alien.
“Doctor Who has something for everybody: adventure, sci-fi, awesome speeches that make you feel really righteous, quirky humor,” Torres said. “In recent years the show has gotten darker but still manages to maintain family friendliness. All the characters have believable flaws which make you care about them. It’s just a clever show and there’s a reason why it’s been around for 50 years.”
Torres has lived in Florida since 1995, and called New Port Richey her home for six years until her move to North Pinellas last year.
Her interests are reflected in her charms, so expect to see video game characters like Zelda, miniature figures of Sherlock Holmes, Adventure Time and Harry Potter characters, and Angry Birds, from the mobile phone game. She also does custom requests through her Etsy shop at http://www.etsy.com/shop/Gimmeswords.
“A lot of my charms are made in batches,” Torres said. “I hate running out at a show, so I always try to make lots of things that I think will sell. If I’m starting a new buddy design, I’ll go through a tiny sketch process, and mark down colors of the clothes.”
If a character has multiple outfits, Torres will consult with her husband or post a poll on her Facebook fan page to see what clothing would make the character more recognizable.
When Torres isn’t scheming up new polymer clay jewelry designs, she’s listening to classic rock (her favorite band is Pink Floyd), collecting action figures and all things cow-related, and playing video games like the Zelda franchise.
With Christmas coming up, there’s no better gift for a fangirl or fanboy than accessories that show off their fandoms. With Torres just up the road, you can pride yourself on shopping locally.
“It makes you feel good about supporting an artist and it encourages the artist to create more,” Torres said.